10 Best Quotes About Bad Management

10 Best Quotes About Bad Management

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The memes and quotes are endless on the topic of bad management. Some are very clever, but they become far less funny when you work for a company under poor leadership.

Bad management can ruin any job, and there are many quotes expressing as much, including, “a bad system will beat a good person every time.” Lousy management ruins good jobs because you spend so much time feeling unable to change the culture, the circumstances, or how people are treated.

When you apply for a job, it’s crucial that you do a bit of homework on the company and how happy current and former staff are with their management. In this article, I’ll share ten of the best quotes about bad management in hopes that you can avoid learning the hard lessons that the quote speaks to specifically.

1. “Management must manage!” Harold S. Geneen

This quote seems so obvious that it goes without saying, but there’s a valid reason it’s on this list. It’s so important that I thought it was worth being the first quote.

Think back to a job where it seemed like nobody was in charge, or the person in charge wanted to be everyone’s friend instead of the boss. This approach breaks down quickly because there aren’t defined expectations or consequences.

Over time, I’ve seen another well-known mantra prove true: leadership hates a vacuum. Absent managers that manage someone who wants to be in charge will take charge. Frequently, it isn’t someone with the skillset or the best interest of the company or the staff that grabs the helm of a ship that is adrift.

If things in the workplace seem just a bit too laid back or if it looks like someone who isn’t a manager is running the show, that’s a great indication that the company isn’t managed by individuals interested in addressing the managerial aspects of their job. This is a red flag and a reason to pass on a job opportunity.

2. “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” W.E. Deming

When I read this quote, government employees immediately come to mind as an example of this principle in practice. So much of federal work policy is grounded in law or tied to their enabling legislation or appropriation. Therefore, it limits staff and managers’ flexibility to change things for the better.

When service-minded individuals go into jobs with little room for interpretation or change, the system often beats them, or they get frustrated and eventually leave. Of course, this principle doesn’t only apply to government jobs.

Corporate positions can function the same if the way the company is run is dictated by a single user group such as customers or shareholders. Sadly, things are this way often in response to a single issue or series of events.

Anytime you see a company or workplace where a process or policy has a protracted “backstory” to explain how it came to be, there’s a chance that the workplace is reactionary rather than vision or mission-driven. Think long and hard about working in jobs like this; your ability to influence a change could be more limited than you think.

3. “Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny.” Kim Hubbard

This quote epitomizes the lazy version of bad management that throws up its collective hands when things go wrong and accepts things as they are. This is the professional version of a toddler having a tantrum. Would you trust your professional future, finances, and reputation on a toddler? I would hope not.

Good management doesn’t accept things as they are. Good management sees all ideas as optional and is willing to try new things, all while knowing they might fail but hoping that they might actually make things better.

4. “First law of bad management: If something isn’t working, do more of it.” Tom DeMarco

This quote, unfortunately, is valid more often than not. To employees, it’s confounding to the point of disbelief. Remember that management arrives at decisions after considering their point of view, so when flawed processes perpetuate, consider the possibility that management doesn’t even realize it isn’t working.

If you decide to approach management about a process that isn’t working, be sure to do so without assuming they know things aren’t working for the staff. Finding ways to diplomatically bring this up can be challenging.

Consider asking questions first rather than making statements. It can help ascertain what may be at the root of the ongoing friction. Entering a potentially contentious conversation without making assumptions is always the best approach.

5. “Bad leaders care about who is right. Good leaders care about what is right.” Simon Sinek

Another version of this quote could be, “bad leaders care about being right.” You can always pick out this person in an office. They’ll argue with you over what they said and how you must have “misheard” them.

If this form of low-level gaslighting isn’t enough to run you off, the unwillingness or inability to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions eventually will. A good manager is always focused on doing what’s right and taking responsibility for the outcome of that action.

6. “People don’t leave bad companies; they leave bad managers.” Marcus Buckingham

Perhaps a more accurate rendition of this quote could be, “people don’t leave bad companies; they leave bad management.” The point holds true whether it’s your immediate supervisor or management above them. People are more willing to work in bad jobs as long as it’s for good people.

Suppose you’re reading this now and thinking about resigning specifically due to bad management in your workplace. In that case, it can be difficult to articulate your reasons for leaving, especially if you aren’t going to take another job. Check out this article for help getting started on a professional, tactful resignation letter that still delivers the point that you disagree with management actions.

7. “So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.” Peter Drucker

This particular quote is easy to agree with but can be somewhat subjective. As an example, management may implement a new strategy or software that, as a whole, is beneficial to the company, but may create additional work at the individual employee level.

Approach change with an open mind, assuming that it’s ultimately in your best interest. While cynicism and joking around with coworkers have their place, that lends itself to a hostile workplace where staff eventually don’t trust anything from management. Be open to change and give things a chance to fail before you decide that they’re a failure.

If things aren’t working, be the employee who suggests ways that the process can be improved.  Managers don’t appreciate criticism without ideas on ways to fix it. In many workplaces, the person who complains is put in charge of the working group responsible for changing the process. Have a few ideas on changes that could be made to improve the process before you openly criticize existing policy or procedure.

8. “Self-delusion is rarely a good strategy for effective management.” Eva Moskowitz

This particular quote brings to mind endless articles about toxic positivity in the workplace. There are those who seem to really embrace the concept of “fake it ’till you make it” at work. Nobody likes to work with a Debbie Downer, but someone who is endlessly pointing out silver linings can be equally irritating.

There’s a fine line between being an optimist and being unrealistically optimistic in the workplace. Let’s face it – sometimes things just aren’t pleasant, and by saying it, people can laugh, take a deep breath, regroup, and get back to the task at hand, having acknowledged what everyone is thinking.

Any manager who refuses to accept or acknowledge when things are suboptimal will lose staff support quickly. Even Superman had his kryptonite, and acting like things are always perfect is not endearing; it’s obnoxious.

Furthermore, this behavior stifles an environment where people can openly discuss alternatives or improvements. By conveying that everything is perfect, management subconsciously expresses that it’s not open to creative thinking about how to make things better, which isn’t healthy for the staff or the company itself.

9. “The reaction of weak management to weak operations is often weak accounting.” Warren Buffett

The Oracle of Omaha says it so well, but to be more direct, the proof is in the pudding. There are often indicators of lousy management beyond what we typically look to, including recruitment, retention, and attrition.

What’s often most telling about the position of a company is how the company and upper management are speaking about their role, and their vision for the direction things are headed. Listen to how messages are phrased and if managers are making statements internal to the organization or if they’re speaking about things outside their sphere of control.

Bad management is quick to point out issues with government regulations, external economic influences, or even bad prior management or unmotivated staff. Bad management is also likely to attempt to spin unflattering metrics as somehow having a silver lining for the company’s future without actually outlining a plan to change processes or outcomes.

By comparison, good management is quick to take responsibility for the current position or at minimum, the fact that they didn’t anticipate the work to be entirely as it is. Additionally, good management speaks about getting employee input to make changes and pausing the current process until they can evaluate precisely where things are breaking down.

10. “I got even with all the bad management I had by being a good manager.” Victoria Principal

One of the best ways to learn how to be a good manager is to collect examples of how not to manage. We all learn from experience, but don’t let bad experiences make you bitter; allow yourself to learn from and implement lessons from a bad experience.

Take notes along the way of good and bad management practices that you’ve experienced. Pay particular attention to managers that you look up to and work hard to find an approach that suits your personality and skill set, but is able to integrate their work practices that you admire.

Employees can endlessly complain about bad management and what they should be doing. If you’re committed to influencing and implementing change in your workplace, perhaps it’s time to apply for management roles and do your part to make the workplace better for yourself and others.


About The Author

Nathan Brunner
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Nathan Brunner is a mathematician who cares about the job market.

He is the owner of Salarship, a job search engine where less-skilled candidates can find accessible employment opportunities.